New Realities of Government Contracting

A solid article by Steve Charles in Washington Technology, discusses the “new realities” of government contracting.  Some of the more interesting points include:

  • A greater preference for firm, fixed-price contracts
  • More scrutiny surrounding the use of interagency contracts requiring written justification that the vehicle chosen is the “best procurement approach” of all available interagency contracts
  • Greater focus on shared technologies, infrastructures and commodity purchases
  • Movement towards mobility and teleworking

We concur with all of these points.  Most of these trends are in line with what is happening in the private sector as well.  Technology is driving many of these things as access, sharing, mobility, security, and other related trends converge.

What do you think?  What trends are missing from this list?  We’d love to hear from you.

 

Government with its Head in the Cloud

Cloud computing icon

Image via Wikipedia

Michael Koploy,  e-Procurement Software Analyst for Software Advice, writes a solid article on cloud computing in the public sector in his State of the Union: Public Sector and the Cloud.  He makes a good case that the key to government movement toward cloud services is, and will continue to be, cost reduction.  With huge debt and significant budget cuts, government IT managers will no doubt be drawn to cloud services as a lower cost approach to on-site management.

So why aren’t government IT managers flying full speed into the cloud?  Michael says threats to security, and a loss of ownership are key barriers.  It only takes a couple of well-publicized security breaches to make IT decision makers in the government squeamish.  Recent hacking incidents raise questions about just how safe the data is when it’s “outside the walls.”

From our perspective, we continue to be bullish on contractor cloud opportunities.  The commercial world is embracing it dramatically, and, like other trends, government will lag behind, but follow.

It goes back to one of our key principles related to selling to government buyers:  they don’t like risk.  IT contractors will need to double efforts at securing networks, data, etc. (and double efforts at convincing buyers).

Relationship Building Strategy: Leveraging Shared Values

If you’ve been in sales for any length of time, you have probably heard the rapport-building advice that upon entering a prospect’s office, you should look for ways to connect with what is important to him/her on an individual level.  Pictures of family on his desk?  Talk about your kids.  Golf trophies on her bookshelf?  Tell her about your trip to Pebble Beach.  The theory?  Practicing this method provides common ground between you and the prospect–important for laying a relationship foundation.

It’s decent advice on the surface, as honing in on prospect passions is clearly an effective method for easing initial introductions.  However, deeper relationship building requires expanding this practice beyond the initial meeting.  Salespeople should move past thinking the method is just an ice-breaking gimmick. Instead, sales pros should focus on ways to build a deeper shared value framework between you as the seller and your prospect (or strategic partner) over the long-term.

Here’s one process for doing this:

  • Observe.  Make a concerted effort to become more aware of interests and values.
  • Capture.  Make notes about the interests/values you uncover and capture these in your contact database.
  • Review.  Revisit the values you have observed regularly so you’re tuned in.
  • Collect.  Be on constant lookout for things you know will pique your prospects’ interest or tap into mutually shared values.  Simple things like news articles or pertinent websites are great.
  • Share.  Commit to passing along content that will be of interest to prospects and reinforce shared values.
  • Be Genuine.  Don’t overdo it.  Trying to “force” shared values where none really exist will backfire on you.

Leveraging shared values takes some effort, but it will help you develop deeper prospect relationships–the absolute key to “owning an RFP” and winning deals.

Pentagon Unveils Reduced Spending Plan

Today, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta unveiled a budget plan that cuts half a trillion dollars in spending increases over the next 10 years, ultimately illustrating how the Obama administration feels America’s military needs to change.  Cuts would begin in October 2013.

Panetta said he will request a total budget that is $33 billion less than the current budget.  To achieve this, Panetta said a new “flexible and agile” strategy was developed for the military of the future.  From examples provided, savings will come from reduced headcount, closing of European bases, and retiring of antiquated hardware.

Programs like the Special Operations Forces (e.g. Navy SEALs) and unmanned aerial vehicles will actually see increases in spending.

Becoming a Star: Listening & Value Translation Skills

In our consulting practice, we’re often asked what individual qualities best predict success in government sales and business development.  In our research (and practical experience over the years) we’ve actually identified seven personal traits that contribute to effective selling within the complex government environment.  For a discussion of all of these, feel free to request our free white paper, “Seven Key Traits of Star Government Salespeople” (see the link on the right).  For now, let’s examine the strongest predictor of success:  listening and value translation.  We’ll break this down into smaller bites in order to better understand this vital factor.

First, star salespeople are perceived to be good listeners by their prospects.  No surprises here.  Buyers want their problems and needs to be truly heard.  Of course, listening means more than hearing.  Good listeners know what questions to ask to get to the core of prospects’ stated (or unstated) needs.  They listen for clues regarding the decision-making chain, and they effectively discern non-verbal cues.

Second, star sales people are able to translate prospect problems into meaningful customer “answers”.  Hearing is one thing.  Being able to diagnose problems, align needs with company offerings, and provide real solutions (an unfortunately overused term) is another.  Being “consultative” is a part of the equation, but only a part.  Persuasion is also a valid part of the value translation process.  We often see salespeople who, in striving to be consultative, fail because they get mired in prospect “wish lists” and details they don’t know how to address.  They are unable to persuade the prospect to adopt new ways of thinking (ways that are more aligned with their company’s offerings).  Star government salespeople don’t fall into this trap.

Third, star salespeople have learned to adapt their listening and value translation skills to the structured process of government selling.  While other salespeople might be turned off by the rigid procedures involved in government procurement, star government salespeople utilize this to their advantage.  They are comfortable with the playing field (and frankly know how to work the system within bounds).

A government salesperson’s ability to listen empathetically, and then translate products or service features into clear value for the buyer is essential for long-term success.  If you’re sitting around waiting for RFPs to be released before you begin selling, you’re too late.  Commit to getting in front of the RFP, building relationships, listening effectively, then translating prospect problems into solutions your company can provide.  You’ll find yourself with “star” status before long.

President Obama Proposes Merging Agencies and Elevating SBA Head to Cabinet Position

Seal of the U.S. government's Small Business A...

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Today, President Obama proposed merging six trade and commerce agencies into a single agency, while elevating the head of the Small Business Administration to a cabinet level position.  The plans would affect the Commerce Department, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The president can’t make the change on his own, so he will ask Congress for authority to undertake the reorganization quickly.

According to the Journal article, “the president appears to be seeking to show that he is looking out for a part of the business sector that Republicans say is the main engine of job growth, and one that other Obama policies have hurt.”

At this point it is unclear whether Congress will give President Obama what he seeks. Reorganizations are tricky in Congress because they impact certain committees’ oversight structure.  At least, however, discussion and focus are being placed on Small Business–a key engine for economic growth.

Government Technology’s Five Most Important Stories of 2011

The use of technology  in government is a common interest of our readers as the topic impacts a wide variety of government contractors.  As such, we recommend you check out this linked article from Government Technology magazine.  Here, they highlight what they consider to be the five most important technology stories of 2011.  The stories cover the gamut from cloud-based services, to social media in government, to ultra high-speed broadband.  It’s well worth a read.